Sunday 13 January 2008

Dawn Corus

Well, it's a very long time since I last blogged... I thought I'd better say something in case you thought I had been rubbed out by the avenging 'Farce Brothers' after my previous comments about them here. Or perhaps you thought that I had made a new year's resolution to quit pontificating about chess.

Sorry to disappoint you - neither of these things came to pass. It was just that I decided to give chess writing a miss for the duration of the Xmas/New Year holiday in order to recharge my batteries. I did think about writing another of my alphabetical annual reviews of the year: I got as far as 'A is for Anand' (a no-brainer) but couldn't think of anything funny to say... then 'B is for'... boredom. Yes, the creative juices simply failed to flow so it was time to give up on that idea and get back to the mince pies.

Hastings didn't rouse me from hibernation to any great degree. I usually go there on the final day so that I can take photos of likely winners for photos, but that had proved to be a mistake last year. The leaders had decided to draw their games instantly and I missed a couple of them before they had exited the tournament room. Tip to chess photographers: make sure your camera has a really fast shutter speed to catch those ultra-fast last-round draws. I thought I'd fool them this year and go down for Round one (when they'd surely sit at the board long enough for me to get a decent shot). It was pleasant meeting old chess friends as it always is, and there were a few decent games to watch. But the course of the tournament wasn't terribly exciting. Sometimes the new, premier-less Hastings can be good when someone like Belov lights up the Hastings sky with a string of wins, but it was a case of 'Asbestos on Board' this year - a few middle-income GMs intent on a steady little earner.

But today was round one of Corus: the real first day of the chess year, when everyone gets to show off their shiny new January rating for the first time. Unfortunately for me it coincides with a heavy workload and a brisk deadline as I get the February BCM ready so that I can travel to Gibraltar in a week or so's time for the other big January event. I haven't found a really interesting chess story to write about this year yet, but Corus had a goodly helping of surprises, right from the off. I thought about writing a preview of the tournament, but then decided I didn't really have a clue what might happen. Will 2008 be another good year for the more mature players (as 2007 was) or will the Carlsens and Radjabovs finally start to elbow them aside? Who knows? Today's games provide evidence of the latter but it's only a tiny sample. Besides which, as I pointed out in the January BCM editorial, last year's Corus did not provide a reliable indicator of what might happen during the rest of 2007. Aronian, Topalov and Radjabov tied for first place... and all three had a sub-standard year. It turned out to be Ivanchuk, Anand and Kramnik who came out on top by December.

No, great though Corus is as a tournament, I wouldn't read too much into what happens there in terms of who is going to be at the apex of world chess by the end of the year. Anand and Kramnik will probably go careful in Wijk. They don't want to pig out on the hors d'oeuvres because they know they have a substantial main course to find room for later in the year. Tournaments are all right but it is matchplay which really sorts out the men from the boys. Roll on September...


  1. It's good to get stuck into the new year's chess 'viewing' with a (hopefully) exciting Corus tournament.

    BTW - It's good to see you've still got the strength to post at the age of 127. :)

  2. Yes, still going strong despite my advanced age.

    Re Corus, Steve Giddins just told me that Vishy missed a threefold repetition yesterday. It's not that hard to find. If Vishy had played 63...Ra7 it would have been the same position as after Black's 57th and 59th moves.

  3. Are they using increments at Corus? It was interesting that there were aa few three fold repetitions at Hastings (in non drawn positions) and in struck me that having nothing else to do, aside from producing appropriate and accurate pairings, it is something that arbiters will have to concentrate more on in the future.


  4. "Nothing else to do"? apart from: ensure everyone's arrived for their game, re-pair defaults, listen out for those "live and dangerous" mobile phones, watch the time scrambles, provide pens for those that have forgotten to bring one, reset pieces on the boards that have finished but the players didn't bother to tidy up, reset the clocks, track down stray results (especially on those boards where the players lazily leave scoresheets there even though they should put them in the results box provided), keep the wallcharts up-to-date, tidy up empty cups / glasses / sweet wrappers, and generally keep the punters happy?

  5. To Richard Anonymous: they are using the traditional 40/2, 20/1, rest/½ hr time control - confirmed by BCM's man in Wijk.

    To (Arbiter) Anonymous: "... re-pair defaults..." - does that still happen? A well-known English GM got ever so slightly miffed about this happening to him a few years back and I was under the impression that it was no longer standard practice.

  6. re repairing

    Notwithstanding the opinions of a Greek resident GM, repairing is still (rightly) standard practice in English events. For example the entry form for the 31st Surrey congress at Easter states Players present, whose opponents have not arrived must expect to be re-paired 1 hour after the round has started . The Open at this event is FIDE rated.

  7. I admit i wasn't completely sure if anonymous at 15:57 was being ironic or not. The whole point of increments (from an arbiter's perspective) is that the "watching time scrambles" isn't really part of the job description any more. I'm not sure how many of the other examples cited are tested by the arbiter's exam.

    Of course I was really just having a sly dig at the Hastings pairings which, aside from one rather glaring error (which amusingly resulted in a certain Croatian grandmaster being repaired at short notice), was generally a comprehensive triumph for the accelerated pairing system. Or maybe not.


  8. Well, I am glad to hear that the UK (or is it just England?) still goes its own way as regards re-pairing defaults. Much as we continue to drive on the left, drink warm beer, call private schools "public schools", etc, etc, we maintain our individuality as always.

    But it does strike me that the elimination of manual pairings and time scrambles may have the effect of de-skilling the arbiter's job somewhat. The other tasks listed by Anonymous Arbiter doesn't sound very appetising for potential recruits, does it? Rather than the 'obdurate schoolmaster' of blessed memory, future arbiters may turn into something more akin to a crabby school janitor (rather like the Deryck Guyler character in TV's 'Please Sir!' all those years ago), nagging people about what they do with their paper cups.

    Perhaps even the more mundane tasks can be automated. Why can't those clever people at ChessBase upgrade Fritz to do the pairings (and re-pairings), announce a few messages ("turn off your mobile phones"), and indeed detect the sound of mobile phones going off and locate them to the nearest square millimetre (a dalek-style voice announcing "white on board 14 - you have been disqualified!" would go down a storm when shown off to the general media), nag the competitors about noise/untidiness - and then deride their moves when they hand in the score ("ha! you missed mate in 17 on move 33!"). If it's not all in my Fritz 12 next year, I'll want my £36.50 back.

    A Fritz-operating tournament director would only need a couple of semi-chess-literate roadies (or night-club heavies) to set up the boards and pieces. Might also be handy when dealing with petty arguments about the rules. Most such problems could soon be sorted out with an instruction from the TD to one of the bouncers - sorry, assistant arbiters - to "give 'im a slap". I predict that we would see a great reduction in all those boring and interminable debates about the rules that we read on websites. And there would be no need for those amazingly expensive appeals committees beloved of FIDE VPs. This idea is so obvious (but brilliant) that I cannot believe Stewart Reuben didn't think of it years ago.

  9. Fascinating stuff, but, back to the original question, I think we will see a very close Anand Kramnik match, which could go either way, and might well be decided by rapid games, since I believe the draw-odds for the holder has been dropped (who would be the holder in this scenario?). And following that, the chess world will still not unanimously recognise whoever wins as world champion.
    On the 'elite' tournament front I see more of the same : Topalov will win something (but it doesn't look likely to be Curus, after the first 4 rounds), Anand will win something, Kramnik will win Dortmund, one of the younger players will win something, and no doubt there will be one or two other surprises, but no single player will be dominant.
    The burning question of course is who will win the British? My heart would like to see Hebden win it, the Jimmy White of English chess, but my head says it will probably be another Scot, or adopted Scot.

  10. Why wouldn't the chess world recognise an undisputed world champion after an Anand-Kramnik tie-break rapidplay? They did after Kramnik won a tie-break against Topalov. It might not be unanimous but it would be as near as dammit.

    That said, I am not enamoured of a tie-break match for a world championship match. In the same way, I dislike the FIDE World Cup being used as a replacement for interzonals/candidates matches. The mixture of disciplines (standardplay, rapidplay and blitz) is highly undesirable in my view. However I fear that the dead weight of FIDE intransigence and the popularity of speed chess amongst teenage super-GMs will prevail over the aspirations of us elderly purists. Rubbishplay is here to stay.

    As for the British Championship: I wonder whether the burning desire to beat the 'auld enemy' provides extra motivation to Scots GMs when they play in the championship. This 'Bannockburn factor' could be worth an extra half point. Young English GMs, on the other, have the added pressure of chess hacks writing about how 'fings ain't wot they used to be' as regards English chess ("Oh my Miles and my Nunn, long, long ago!").

  11. I agree that the chess world would recognise a winner after a tie-break as undisputed, but it would be far from satisfactory. My main point was that Anand's title was in itself viewed by many as unsatisfactory (which is not the same as undeserved), since it was 'just another elite tournament win' rather than one achieved through the rigours of a match, and many thought that it would have been more appropriate had Mexico been a qualifying tournament, which would have made this years match the real thing.
    And following this years match we will have the spectacle of Topalov or Kamsky playing the new world champion in 2009, and you can be sure that should one of them beat either Anand or Kramnik, they will not be regarded by many as world champion, in the tradition of the 'Steinitz line'. All of this has of course been discussed ad nauseum on other forums. I have obviously joined you as an 'elderly purist'.

    I agree with your comments about the Scots at the British - we definitely need an English Championship, that way we will win it! I just thought it would be nice if Mark Hebden could win it just once, especially as I believe he turns 50 this year.

    Incidentally, have you ever thought of following the ECF's lead and turning the BCM into the ECM?